Nearly six summers ago, I sat my seventeen-year-old self on a bench in the Boston Common and tried to calm down. Early on a Monday morning, as business people rushed by swinging briefcases, parents ran past with strollers, and pigeons started circling, I breathed and relaxed, inhaling the city’s energy.
I was in Boston for GrubStreet’s Summer Teen Fellowship. The afternoon I found out I was accepted, alone in my house, I jumped through every sunlit room like my own carpeted trampoline, squealing in delight to my mother over the phone, out of character but ecstatic nonetheless. The doubts came later. While I loved taking the train into the city, catching the subway, I had no clue what to expect from the fellowship. Seventeen-year-old me would have cackled if I told him that not only would the three-week fellowship alter the course of his creative life, but that five and a half years later, he would return to intern with the Young Adult Writers Program.
I was not expecting to feel as emotional as I did the first time I stood in the door frame of a classroom at GrubStreet, full of young writers sharing their work, nearing tears as their guardians crept down the hallway, straining to hear every word. I stood at the threshold a few weeks ago, at the end of an afternoon of free workshops, thinking fleetingly, longingly, lovingly of my seventeen-year-old self, how much he needed that community, that room full of peers not judging his appearance but, if anything, his words.
Even then, is it judgment? Approval? I think it is closer to understanding. As a young writer (am I still one?), entering a room full of strangers who were also young(er) writers felt radical to me. Almost immediately, I allowed myself to share more openly because I assumed that, by virtue of our creativity, and a desire to discover through a shared language, we knew each other already, even if that was only a place to begin. Begin we did.
Today, as an intern at GrubStreet, I find myself in a position similar to the one Teen Sequins has given me. I first wanted to say that both my positions as co-editor and intern have me on the other side of the divide between student and instructor, mentee and mentor, writer and editor, but what these positions truly offer me are fresh perspectives from which to remain a student. As I continue to learn from the writers who share their work with Teen Sequins, and the ways they share with each other, I now also learn watching the writers at GrubStreet, even if most of the time I am ordering pizza and rearranging chairs.
To celebrate the ending of the Summer Teen Fellowship almost six years ago, we had a reading on one of the top floors at GrubStreet, which overlooks the Boston Common and that bench I went to sit on every morning when I was seventeen. Memory feels more malleable as time passes, but I think that day was the first time I read in public. After the reading, the manager of what was (and remains, though not (only) for this reason) my favorite bookstore asked me, brows raised, “That was your first time reading in public?” Something like that, not much of a question, but hearing it from him was earth-shattering, and opened to another earth.
Validation is far from everything, but in that moment I felt understood, and maybe started to understand myself, too, what I want from this creative life. Moments of understanding have filled my time at GrubStreet, and I hope Teen Sequins offers this kind of support, too, for the writers sharing their work with us. I put myself out there, my lines on the line, and they gave back. My work with Teen Sequins, and at GrubStreet, is to pass this on.
—— Robby Auld, Teen Sequins co-editor